Sunday, February 6, 2011

Night of the Living Dead: The Novels

1974; Warner Publications

Night of the Living Dead fans and ghoul-lovers everywhere should be interested to know that there is not just one, but TWO novelizations of the 1968 zombie classic! For those of you who can't get enough of the flesh-eating dead, getting your hands on these two books by authors John Russo and Christopher Andrews may help appease those hunger pangs as well as provide for an intriguing comparative evaluation of both interpretations.

by John Russo
1974, 1st edition
Publisher: Warner Publications
ISBN: Mass paperback 9780446764100

1981; Pocket Books
First... a little background information that is relevant to this review. George A. Romero was responsible for writing the first half of NOLD's film script. When Romero's attention was needed in the directing seat, ASAP, he turned over the scripting duties to John Russo, who, in turn, reedited Romero's draft and completed the remaining half of the script. As filming went underway, many last-minute changes were made to the finished script and even the actors, themselves, contributed much to the dialogue by being allowed to ad lib most of their lines. It was a collaboration that worked very well as is evident in the finished product.
Six years later, John Russo's official novel-ization of the popular zombie flick was released to the public. However, new readers expecting an exact recap of the film should take heed -- the author's literary vision is based heavily on the original script! Russo does elaborate on the story by borrowing minimally from the film and using his imagination. Fans of the film will especially notice the difference on how scenes are executed (like Johnny's death scene at the graveyard) and much of the descriptive action is lifted right off the pages of the script. Also, obviously absent are the popularly quoted lines that the actors had ad libbed. But blood and guts aficionados will no doubt be delighted to know that this novelization is packed with far more gore and violence than anything witnessed in the actual movie! A bonus treat you will enjoy are the pages located in the center of the book featuring over 46 rare photographs from the movie! WOW!!!

1997; Commonwealth Pubns Inc
In reading Russo's novelization, one will also notice that the character of Barbara has very few lines and practically little to do once the other characters are introduced. Comparatively, Judith O'Dea's portrayal of the hysterical Babs was, believe it or not, much meatier in the film. And by that I mean she had far more to scream and blab about, react to, and fight for. Additionally unlike the finished film, the character of all-around-nice-guy Tom was conceived as a 16 year old; nor did he have a girlfriend named Judy! The author maintains his earliest imagining of the teenager but fuses both script and film versions here by borrowing the movie's last-minute addition of the Judy character and including her in the novel. Unfortunately, like Barbara, the book version of Judy has very little to say or do. In a brilliant decision by author John Russo, the frightening, but popular character of little Karen Cooper was also lifted from the film and included in the book. Anyone who has seen the movie will definitely remember the ghoulish girl rising from the dead to murder and feast on the flesh of her parents! The scene is considered one of the most disturbing moments in the history of horror cinema. Originally, the script called for a young boy named Timmy, but the scripted scene was not nearly as powerful as the improved upon changes to the film. Kudos to Russo! 

2010; Kensington
Because the script was so short, Mr. Russo turned to his imagination to help lengthen the book by providing details of the characters' surroundings, painting a vivid picture of gloom and despair. In fact, it's not until the approaching climax that readers may feel any ray of hope that, perhaps, one or two of the characters will make it through this nightmare alive as the approaching Sheriff McClellan and his rescue party move in ever closer to the farmhouse where our protagonists are held up. The original script DID allow for someone to make it out alive. Was it Ben? Barbara? Does Russo end the book faithfully to the script or the finished film? Read the book and find out! (How evil of me!!!)

SPECIAL NOTE: John Russo wrote a followup to his book called Return of the Living Dead (1978). Eventually, both books were re-released together under a single format called Undead (2010). Later, Russo also wrote the novelization to the film entitled Return of the Living Dead (1985) -- not to be confused with his earlier book of the same name. In addition, George A. Romero co-wrote his own book adaption of Dawn of the Dead (1978), the definitive film sequel to 1968's NOLD

by Christopher Andrews
2009, 1st edition
Publisher: Rising Star Visionary Press
ISBN: Trade paperback 9780982488218

2009; Rising Star Visionary Press
Die-hard fans of 1968's cinematic ghoulfest will especially enjoy Christopher Andrews' completely faithful adaption of the motion picture. In fact, the inspired author gives more credibility to the film by adding justifiable explanations and forming legitimate reasoning to what viewing audiences have, for years, noticed as errors or inconsistencies in the movie. Why is the graveyard ghoul faster and stronger than the other flesh eaters we are later introduced to? Why do the undead wait until the climax to use objects as weapons or to break into the boarded up farmhouse? Why is Barbra's personality inconsistent in the beginning, during the middle, and the ending of NOLD? Using alternating and engaging prose in the first and third person, Andrews answers these questions and more!

A highlight of this novelization is the author's elaboration on the characters' backgrounds -- fleshing them out, so to speak -- all the while, taking the reader on an incredible and jolting roller coaster ride as we discover just how our protagonists happen to arrive at the old abandoned house. (Previously, movie audiences had only witnessed Barbra's story.) The first few exciting chapters reveal -- in gruesome detail -- Ben's earliest gut-wrenching escape from a horde of frenzied zombies attacking everyone around him; lovers Tom and Judy's chilling first encounter with the living dead as they rise from a nearby lake and materialize from the surrounding woods; and then there's the dysfunctional Cooper family's shocking initial confrontation with the cannibalistic ghouls, resulting in little Karen getting bitten and infected with zombie koodies! Yuck!!!

The action is fast paced from the get-go and the violence and gore generous. And if you assume your interest will waver once you read the chapters that retell the movie... put those fears aside! Mr. Andrews proves skillful in keeping the readers' attention and making it difficult to put the book down... even for a potty break! The author knows what his readers want and he delivers. He proves this in the very beginning of his novel by quoting NOLD's most famous phrase, "They're coming to get you, Barbra...," as the opening line. The book also ends with a special nudge to George A. Romero's sequel Dawn of the Dead: "...there was simply no more room in Hell."


  1. Fleshing out each character's encounters is DEFINITELY a good idea and something that, understandably, probably couldn't have been well done in the film.

  2. I so agree, Scripto.

  3. Thank you so much for the very kind review. I'm glad that you enjoyed the book.

  4. You're very welcome. It really was my pleasure.


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